Keeping in mind D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's admonition about how the Washington Nationals, "'... like to keep (off-season) things under wraps,'" as the Nats' general manager told Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell, as quoted in a chat with readers earlier this winter, and acknowledging that the 52-year-old executive said clearly that, "'When you hear our name linked with a player, you know those are the things that are NOT going to happen,'" there has been persistent chatter about the defending NL East champs adding starting pitching depth all winter, even after the Nats signed Dan Haren to a 1-year/$13M dollar deal.
"We feel very comfortable and confident with the five current rotation guys that we've got," Rizzo told reporters after the deal with Haren was announced, "And the current guys that we feel that could be that sixth, seventh or eighth major league starters if need be, but again, with that said, we're always on the lookout to [improve] our ballclub."
The Nationals have been linked directly to some of the pitchers still out there. The Nats sent scouts to watch 36-year-old, 14-year-veteran Javier Vazquez, who last pitched in the majors in 2011. Vazquez pitched in the Puerto Rican winter league and the Nats' GM made a trip to see Vazquez with his own eyes. The right-hander had minor knee surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee, but he's expected to pitch in the World Baseball Classic at which point he said he would make a decision about a return the majors after taking 2012 off.
USA Today writer Bob Nightengale wrote on Twitter in January (@BNightengale) that scouts who saw Vazquez pitch in Puerto Rico came away impressed, and noted that the Nationals, in particular, had shown interest:
Scouts are raving about Javier Vazquez, who is throwing 92-95 mph in Puerto Rico. He will pitch in the WBC. The #Nats showing heavy interest— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 12, 2013
In a more recent discussion about Vazquez at NatsFest, Rizzo confirmed that the Nationals remained interested, telling reporters, including the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, "'We’ve always been in the monitoring stage. If it’s the right fit for him and the right fit for us, we certainly would have interest because of the talent level he has.'" The Nationals scouted and evaluated the pitcher and if he decided to return to the majors, Rizzo said, "'... we’ll take it from there.'"
And all that talk took place before this week's Miami New Times' article, which linked the Nationals' 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez to a clinic called Biogenesis and a clinic chief named Anthony Bosch. According to the Miami New Times' investigation of notes from the clinic, Bosch allegedly sold performance-enhancing drugs to pro athletes including the Nats' lefty and six other major leaguers mentioned in the article, four of whom have failed drug tests and been suspended or have admitted to past use of PEDs. Major League Baseball has begun an investigation into the claims made in the article. Several people named in the piece, Gonzalez included, have denied the allegations made in the Miami New Times' report.
CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler wrote last week that his sources were telling him that the Nats were concerned enough about a possible suspension for Gonzalez that they, "... have begun discussing what to do about it." The mere possibility of Washington losing their 27-year-old starter is significant enough Mr. Knobler noted, that, "... they need to plan for their loss," especially for a team like the Nationals, for whom, "... depth in the rotation was already one of their bigger concerns." The Nationals have Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Haren and Ross Detwiler, but behind them, there's Craig Stammen, Zach Duke and Christian Garcia, options Mr. Knobler says are, ... not overwhelming for a team with aspirations of winning a World Series."
On Sunday, Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo added Franklin Morales to the list of names the Nationals might have interest in, writing in his Sunday Baseball Notes column that, "... a few teams contacted the Red Sox about Morales this offseason and a few others have him on their list of pitchers to watch closely in spring training." The 27-year-old, left-handed, Venezuelan-born, six-year veteran made 37 appearances in 2012, but started just nine games for Boston, posting a 3.77 ERA with a 4.39 FIP, 30 walks (3.54 BB/9)and 76 Ks (8.96 K/9) in 76.1 IP. "Teams are intrigued by Morales’s starting capability, especially with a 96-mile-per-hour fastball," Mr. Cafardo writes, and he's reportedly heading into Spring Training as a starter and, "... scouts will be interested to see if he can consistently maintain that velocity for a full outing." The Boston Globe writer says Washington might be one of the teams with interest:
"If Gio Gonzalez winds up being penalized for his alleged link to the anti-aging clinic in Miami, the Nationals may be interested in Morales."
There are a lot of "ifs" involved, but any action taken by Major League Baseball against Gonzalez, might require a move on the Nationals' part. Even before this past week's revelation, however, the Nationals have discussed adding depth to their starting pitching, and every other move they've made this year has been made with an eye towards competing for a World Series championship this season. Will the Nats add to their starting depth before the 2013 season gets underway?